Mesut Ozil’s second-half substitute appearance for Germany in Azerbaijan on Sunday should be an indication that the 28-year-old is in contention for a return to the Arsenal team when they face Manchester City next weekend.
The former Real Madrid midfielder has not started a game for the Gunners since Feb. 15, the same day they lost the first leg of their Champions League round-of-16 tie 5-1 against Bayern Munich. The following day, Ozil’s agent went on the offensive, declaring that it was unfair to single him out for criticism when the team as a collective had failed.
“In these games people usually target a player who cost a lot of money and earns a lot of money — that is Mesut,” Erkut Sogut told the BBC.
“But he can’t be always be the scapegoat. That’s not fair … Was he the reason that Arsenal conceded five goals?”
Perhaps it was just coincidence, but in the five games Arsenal played since, Ozil only appeared twice, both times from the bench. He missed the other matches through illness and vague injury, and even the mildest conspiracy theorists didn’t have to work too hard to suggest there might have been a connection between his agent going public with his feelings and his lack of participation.
It followed another bout of illness, which saw him miss a spell of games at the turn of the year, and was perhaps the start of a sharp decline for a player who had, until early December at least, been a real positive for Arsenal.
When Ozil scored a looping header to put Arsenal 2-0 up over Stoke at the Emirates on Dec. 10, he brought his tally for the season to nine. With Arsene Wenger challenging him to score 10-15 goals every season, he looked well on his way to achieving that mark.
He hasn’t scored since and his form has deteriorated in dramatic fashion. From a player viewed as integral to the team and their chances of winning something this season, his absence from the squad when Arsenal travelled to West Brom was viewed with basic indifference.
It’s quite the turnaround and it’s hard to pinpoint the reason why. Even the best players can suffer losses of form, but rarely are they so profound. Leaving aside speculation about his future and without jumping to conclusions about his personal motivations, it’s worth remembering that footballers are human, too.
An issue that affects Ozil the man could well be affecting Ozil the player. The other thing to consider is that at this moment in time there are very few Arsenal players performing at the top of their game — primarily because the team as a whole is struggling. Bad players can look good in a good team and good players can look bad in a bad team. Right now, Arsenal are not playing well at all.
Which is to say that Ozil’s struggles for form aren’t unique to him. From front to back you would be hard pressed to find any player who isn’t having a difficult time at the moment, but Ozil’s price tag and languid style certainly make him stand out in that regard.
After the international break, Arsenal face a challenging final few months of the season. They’re currently in sixth position and have a real battle on their hands to finish in the Champions League places. There’s a run of fixtures that will test them to their very limits and if they are to finish strongly — and make the FA Cup final — they need their best players performing.
As indifferent as his 2017 has been so far, Ozil is a player who can make a difference. He has the quality and craft to decide games and when you look at the strength of the opposition and the battle for the top four, it’s crucial to Arsenal’s chances that he rediscovers some of what made him so effective in the first half of the season.
It’s not all down to him, there has to be a focus on the collective too, but if Ozil can find his spark again, it would increase Arsenal’s chances of a respectable finish to what will still be a disappointing league campaign.
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